Mordecai Cubitt Cooke

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Mordecai Cubitt Cooke c. 1905

Mordecai Cubitt Cooke (12 July 1825, in Horning, Norfolk – 12 November 1914, in Southsea, Hampshire) was an English botanist and mycologist who was, at various points, a London schoolteacher, a Kew mycologist, curator at the India Museum, journalist and author, .[1][2][3] Cooke was the elder brother of the art-education reformer Ebenezer Cooke (1837–1913) and father of the book illustrator and watercolour painter William Cubitt Cooke (1866–1951).[4]


Cooke, from a mercantile family in Horning, Norfolk, was apprenticed to a fabric merchant before becoming a clerk in a law firm, but his chief interest was botany. He founded the Society of Amateur Botanists in 1862 while teaching natural history at Holy Trinity National School, Lambeth, and working as a curator at the India Museum at India Office from 1860. In 1879, when the botanical materials in the India Museum were moved to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Cooke went with them. He received a Victoria Medal of Honour from the Royal Horticultural Society in 1902 and a Linnean Medal from the Linnean Society of London in 1903. He claimed to have gained several honorary diplomas for his work, mainly with fungi: MAs from St. Lawrence University in 1870 and Yale University in 1873, and a doctorate from New York University though these claims are disputed. Cooke's life and work are comprehensively documented in a biography by distant relative Mary P. English.[1]

Cooke joined Edward Step (1855–1931) in publishing the magazine Hardwicke's Science-Gossip: A Monthly Medium of Interchange and Gossip for Students and Lovers of Nature from 1865 to 1893. From 1872 to 1894 Cooke also edited Grevillea, a monthly record of cryptogamic botany and its literature, a periodical devoted to mycology. He was a founder of the Quekett Microscopical Club in 1865, in response to a request in Science-Gossip, and a founding member of the British Mycological Society.

It has been suggested that Cooke's description of the perceived distortions of the size of objects while intoxicated by the fungus Amanita muscaria (commonly known as the fly agaric or fly amanita), in his books The Seven Sisters of Sleep and A Plain and Easy Account of British Fungi, inspired the passage in Lewis Carroll's 1865 popular children's storybook Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, where Alice grows or shrinks on eating parts of the mushroom.[5][6] (The effects were later termed Alice in Wonderland syndrome.)

He is honoured in the naming of Cookeina, which is a genus of cup fungi in the family Sarcoscyphaceae, which was found in 1891.[7]

Selected works[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Mary P. English (1987), Mordecai Cubitt Cooke: Victorian naturalist, mycologist, teacher & eccentric. Biopress, Bristol, ISBN 0-948737-02-6]
  2. ^ Taylor, George (17 March 1988). "Review: Mordecai Cubitt Cooke by Mary English". New Scientist. p. 62.
  3. ^ "Cooke, Mordecai Cubitt". Who's Who. Vol. 59. 1907. p. 377.
  4. ^ "Cooke, William Cubitt". Who's Who. Vol. 59. 1907. p. 378. William Cubitt Cooke (1866–1951), was a book illustrator and watercolour painter, who exhibited at the RBA, the RI and the RA.
  5. ^ Letcher, Andy (2006). Shroom: A Cultural history of the magic mushroom. London: Faber and Faber. pp. 123, 127. ISBN 978-0-571-22770-9.
  6. ^ Hanson, Dirk (September 2014). "Eye on fiction: Heavenly and hellish - writers on hallucinogens". The Psychologist, the Monthly Publication of the British Psychological Society. 27: 680.
  7. ^ Denison WC. (1967). Central American Pezizales. 2. Genus Cookeina. Mycologia 59(2): 306–.
  8. ^ International Plant Names Index.  Cooke.
  9. ^ "Review of The Seven Sisters of Sleep. Popular History of the Seven Prevailing Narcotics of the World by M. C. Cooke". The Athenaeum (1702): 785–786. 9 June 1860.


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